BEDFORD — The skies have opened over Texas in the final weeks of May, but that hasn’t stopped Harvest Christian Academy from pouring out into the community. Dozens of students hurry across the beaten stones and water-weary grass of the 6 Stones Community Garden, wheelbarrows loaded high with mulch and rake-wielding peers in tow. Their hopes of painting the area’s aging homes dashed by rain and the resulting humidity, students from the 9th grade to the 12th balance their time between warehouse maintenance, evangelism training, and gardening. In the waning days of the school year, these young adults relish the chance to serve, regardless of circumstance.
Students at Harvest were given three choices for service at the close of the Spring semester. They could travel to Costa Rica or New York, or stay in Texas and drive just a few miles down the road from Watauga to Bedford. While the allure of travel is certainly potent, most of the students serving at 6 Stones opted for a shorter trip in exchange for a more tangible impact. Mission work is desperately important, regardless of location, but it’s hard to deny the value of laboring in your own backyard. For one thing, it’s much easier to see the resulting fruits.
10th grader McKenna Johnson told her parents that she wanted to spend her summer volunteering. Having encountered poverty firsthand at Beautiful Feet in Fort Worth, she determined back in April that her vacation would be focused on giving back. The homeless ministry had opened her eyes to a need she never knew existed until the service component of the National Junior Honor Society drew her to it. The moment she encountered that need, she found herself unable to ignore it.
“There are a lot of people in the mid-cities area that are in need and that are not as stable as I am,” Johnson said. “It really fills my heart, knowing that my work and my effort and all this that I go through really helps someone who is not as fortunate as I am.”
She wasn’t alone in that sentiment. Senior Abby Cotton declined the chance to go to New York, first for financial reasons and then because she realized the value of staying home. Even after more affordable spaces opened on the Northbound trip, Cotton chose to remain here. It was a difficult decision at first, but one that she says she doesn’t regret in the slightest.
“I went to New York last year, and it was great and everything, but I thought there was more work that needed to be done in my community,” Cotton said, remembering a particularly meaningful encounter she had with a garden volunteer near the start of the trip. “What we’re doing, we can’t see who it affects. We just work hard every day, and we can’t see the outcome, really… just to hear from him how much of a difference we made for him, that really boosted us up and encouraged us.”
According to Perry Myers, the Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at Harvest, most of the students who chose to stay in the area did so because they wanted to see the impact they could have at home. He also said that the students had all benefitted from stepping outside of their usual boundaries to witness things that evade them in the classroom. While Harvest is a private, Christian school that covers a different curriculum than most institutions, it’s difficult to teach the lessons one learns while serving. It’s one thing to memorize scripture and learn to analyze the Bible. It’s another thing entirely to step out and implement that theoretical knowledge.
“There’s nothing like coming out and getting into the field. Actually getting your hands dirty and doing some of the stuff that the people need,” Myers said. “If you can give your time, if you can go serve somebody else, you’re serving the Lord.”
There’s a common metaphor in work like ours; one that runs rich with agricultural imagery. Planting seeds, laboring against weeds, preparing soil, and watering sprouts are all part of the long-term process of faith. If Christians really believe what they teach, then they should feel an urgent desire to share their knowledge with others. If Jesus really came to give life in abundance, then we ought to be inviting others into that life. Living that way is torturously difficult work with seemingly minimal results which makes gardening an apt metaphor.
Relationships are complex because people are complex. Married couples spend their lives trying to understand each other. Friends learn new things about each other even after decades of friendship. Being a person and interacting with other people requires constant care. We have to weed out the things that could choke our relationships and pour into the ones that nourish us. We must protect against invasive forces, take care not to overwater each other and recognize the moments in which we should sit back and take in the warm sunlight of love. It takes a lot of discernment and practice to recognize the relationships that are ready to harvest and multiply, and it takes a certain kind of fertile ground to do so effectively. But opportunities are everywhere.
Jesus once told his followers that the Harvest was plentiful, but the workers were few. People everywhere are waiting for a better life; a life of purpose and passion. While part of that pursuit requires the relief of poverty, the provision of food or clothing, the maintenance of a home that has begun to degrade, the heart of it is in the hard work of interpersonal relationship. People need to be loved and valued, to feel like part of a greater whole. Whether they’re high school students or business owners or living on the streets, we believe that people were made for relationship. With each other and with God. But it would be rude of us to impose that belief on others who want nothing to do with it. Jesus served and offered an invitation to follow Him, so that’s our model here.
“I love the approach that 6 Stones is doing; that they’re meeting a need first. They’re not beating everybody down [with religion], they’re asking if there’s something they can do for them, and then as the people are seeing God’s light shine through them, God’s pulling at their heartstrings,” Myers said. “Everything [the students] are learning, we want them to pick it up and keep it going; to be stronger Christians and help people out, and inevitably bring people to the Lord.”
There has never been, nor will there ever be a requirement that the people who come through our doors — be they volunteers, partners, or constituents — be Christian. To do so would be a disservice to the community, and to neighbors who don’t share our beliefs. But if we really believe what Jesus said, we can trust that His Truth will win out in the end. That our service will be proof of His love, that our joy will reflect His provision, and that our lives will shout His praise. This is a man who taught His followers that their love would be the ultimate testament to the veracity of His teaching. He wouldn’t want anyone to be bullied into following Him, but He’d love to see people accepting His invitation to a better life; embracing His forgiveness and responding accordingly.
For one freshman student, who identified himself only as Jake, that lesson hit home during a week of training and service. As he learned the 3 Circles method of Evangelism — a relational model of Gospel sharing used in our Community Ministries initiatives — he began to realize the weight of his beliefs. As he thought about the implications of The Fall, The Cross, the Resurrection and The Promise of abundant life, he felt burdened to share those teachings with a friend from his old neighborhood. If people really are flawed and in need of God’s grace to avoid His wrath, and if God really provided that grace by giving His own life, then we’d be fools to hold back on sharing that message of redemption.
“During the three circles, I realized that I need to go back because I planted a seed in her and I need to help it grow and help her find God so that God can save her,” Jake said. “So now I’m going to go back to my neighborhood and see if she’s still there. If she is, I’m going to try and teach her and help her find God so that she can be saved.”
For students like Jake, volunteering is a path to self-realization. It awakens something latent within them; something built in from the beginning. It reminds us that we were meant for relationship, and that our greatest contributions and connections happen when we are dedicated to something bigger than ourselves. No matter what your personal beliefs, it’s hard to deny that most basic fact of humanity: we need each other. We want something more than we can attain on our own.
“We’re all living in this world, and we all want to be able to prosper,” Myers said of the need to include everyone in the work that we do. “But just to be all dwelling together, they’re going to see the light shining through us and what we’re trying to do. We don’t want to seem like an exclusive club where nobody is coming around or being invited. We want everybody to be a part of it. We want everybody to be saved. The more we can get them around that, get them in that environment, God will keep pulling at the heartstrings and open that door for us.”
Jesus didn’t stop at saying that the harvest outnumbered the workers; that more people were awaiting the Gospel than had been dispersed to share it. He encouraged us to pray for more workers to come. We hope that you’ll pray that for us. And we hope the workers who respond are like the ones who came from Harvest.